SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 28, 2013

Governor promises local aid increases

Proposed budget could give Danvers more than $9M

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — Although it’s the first step in a long process, Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget proposal carries good news for Danvers and other North Shore communities, including increases to local aid.

Much of the increase in local aid is driven by a $226 million increase in Chapter 70, or education aid, funding.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the budget “will hold every district harmless for aid, keep every district at foundation levels of spending, finish the Chapter 70 equity reforms of 2007, guarantee an increase of $25 per pupil for every district, calculate out-of-district special education at $35,000 per year ... and eliminate the cap of pre-kindergartners included in enrollment for Chapter 70.”

If the governor’s budget is approved, local aid to cities and towns will grow 5 percent to $5.57 billion, which represents 14.6 percent of the state’s $34.8 billion spending plan.

Unrestricted aid to cities and towns will increase $31 million from the original fiscal 2013 budget to $930 million. The state will use a new formula to dole out the money.

Under the governor’s budget, Danvers could reap nearly $9.37 million in local aid, a 14.3 percent increase above this fiscal year, said state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers. Other North Shore cities and towns and regional school districts would also see increases.

Swampscott would see the most dramatic increase, a nearly 19.2 percent jump in local aid. Marblehead would get nearly $1 million more and a 17.2 percent increase. Ipswich is in line to get a 12.8 percent hike. Peabody would see a 1.5 percent increase, Beverly 6.4 percent and Salem 3.2 percent.

If the governor’s budget passes as is, it would boost local aid to Danvers above levels not seen since fiscal 2009, when a round of midyear budget cuts reduced aid to cities and towns across the commonwealth.

“I think it’s a really good starting point,” Speliotis said, “but there is so much uncertainty in the budget this year ... and we could wind up level-funded this year.”

The governor’s budget level-funds homeless student transportation under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act at $6.05 million. However, this amount was trimmed $5.3 million, down from $11.3 million, in a round of midyear budget cuts. Danvers has been dealing with a disproportionate share of families sheltered by the state in its budget motels and has had to bear the cost of transporting homeless students from these motels to their hometown schools.

Speliotis spearheaded a ruling from the state auditor calling this transportation cost an “unfunded mandate.” The town was originally promised $150,000 from the state for fiscal 2013, but that number has since been cut in half.

“We haven’t seen a cent for the homeless from last year,” selectmen Chairman Bill Clark said, “so we will hold our breath.”

Clark spoke Friday from the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s annual meeting in Boston, where, he said, Patrick made a pitch to officials to support his budget plan. The plan calls for the sales tax to be reduced from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent, with the proceeds dedicated to pay for transportation projects, and an increase in the state income tax rate from 5.25 to 6.25 percent. Patrick’s budget also calls for other tax increases and changes to the tax code.

“I think the local aid is predicated on the tax increases,” Clark said.

Speliotis said the increase in Danvers for education aid is driven in part by changes in local aid formulas for education in 2007 and the existence of large numbers of low-income homeless families sheltered in Danvers motels.

“There has been this false impression that Danvers has (borne) the brunt of the homeless families,” Speliotis said.

With the estimated increase in local aid, “those students are fully accounted for,” he said.

The so-called equity reforms from 2007 continue to work in Danvers’ favor, and any increases the town gets in local aid would be built into the formula going forward, Speliotis said.

He cautions, however, that the governor’s budget is only a first step.

“It’s a telling step because all the variables that are in place usually ... stay in place,” Speliotis said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

Local aid estimates for the North Shore City/Town/Regional school Chapter 70 Unrestricted general gov. aid Annual formula local aid Total Year-to-year % change Swampscott $3,479,052 $1,094,842 $36,076 $4,609,970 19.2% Marblehead $5,612,411 $963,171 $37,787 $6,613,369 17.2% Danvers $6,864,504 $2,409,018 $95,944 $9,369,466 14.3 % Ipswich $3,209,887 $1,357,726 $38,181 $4,605,794 12.8% Beverly $7,519,969 $4,939,380 $141,925 $12,601,274 6.4% Hamilton $0 $568,272 $21,329 $589,601 3.7% Wenham $0 $362,308 $13,144 $375,452 3.6% Salem $21,413,628 $5,834,758 $211,761 $27,460,147 3.2% Middleton $1,532,626 $462,794 $27,782 $2,023,202 2.3% Topsfield $1,062,914 $518,803 $15,022 $1,596,739 1.8% Boxford $1,582,582 $411,171 $16,178 $2,009,931 1.7% Peabody $19,060,443 $6,105,613 $230,126 $25,396,182 1.5% Hamilton/Wenham Regional $3,370,416 $0 $0 $3,370,416 1.3% Masconomet Regional $4,823,099 $0 $0 $4,823,099 1%